Talent Agency Payola Proof

Japanese talent agency LDH paid one of the country’s biggest entertainment production companies 1 million yen to help it secure the top prize at last year’s Japan Record Awards (JRA), and a Japanese magazine had the proof.

The award eventually went to one of LDH’s acts, Sandaime J Soul Brothers for the song “Unfair World.” In fact, it was the second year in a row that Sandaime received the prize, and in 2008, 2010 and 2013, Exile, another group managed by LDH, won the award. According to various media, rumors of such payments have circulated among show business reporters for years, but this time Japanese magazine Bunshun produced proof: an invoice for the stated amount printed on Burning stationery.

In actuality, Burning Productions does not make the final decision with regard to who receives the various awards given out by JRA, which is organized by the Japan Composers Association. However, Burning, along with Avex Holdings, which owns Avex Records, the biggest domestic label in Japan, and TBS, the television network that sponsors the awards and broadcasts its ceremony, make up the bulk of the jury members, which also includes prominent journalists and other industry insiders.

The JRA started in 1959 as a response to the Grammys, and it was generally understood that sales were the main criterion for selecting winners. In any case, since 1990 the JRA has mainly been a promotional tool, and Burning probably has the best PR resources of any production company in Japan. All Japanese TV networks have music publishing subsidiaries, and as advertising dried up they turned to rights management as a means of generating revenues.

That means paying record companies huge amounts of money to develop stars whose songs would then be used on TV shows. In turn, TV stations would receive a share in the publishing rights, and by promoted the songs they could thus generate more revenue through ringtone and karaoke sales. The JRA was central to this dynamic, even if the public didn’t care about it anymore.

This may explain why the scandal received scant secondary coverage. Most people weren’t surprised, so it didn’t really qualify as a scandal. It was simply business as usual.